The Department of Psychiatry at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) is recording more suicide attempts by Barbadians overall, but it is particularly concerned about the children among them.
Without providing statistics, Senior Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry Dr Tonya Holder reported that “numbers have increased exponentially”.
“I started in 2008, and I would see one person a week if I was on call. Now, we are getting three or four calls per week,” she said at a recent discussion entitled Exploring Suicide in Barbados, at the Cave Hill Wesleyan Holiness Church.
The Department of Psychiatry sees patients of all ages, and according to Dr Holder, “depression is one of the highest risk factors –– 80 per cent”.
“We get very concerned about this. Then there are other illnesses like schizophrenia and dementia. Social stressors are also a key factor, and when you add all these things to wider community issues like unemployment, loss of family support, financial problems, and relationship problems, more people are coming in for assistance or being referred to the department through the polyclinics. Regarding children, bullying tends to be the major frontrunner for suicide attempts, and sexual assault is there as well,” the doctor said.
“One of the main factors is that in the present digital age, everything is online; so, while bullying would have been confined to just one small catchment area when we were growing up, now you can stretch it to the whole of Barbados by putting it up on Facebook and Instagram and sending it all over the place,” she added.
Dr Holder urged parents to become familiar with the various social media platforms, as she expressed concern about websites with videos teaching young people how to kill themselves, as well as people streaming their own suicides on Facebook Live.
“It is not good enough to just sit back and let the children use the computer, iPad and cell phone. Learn the different aspects of these social media sites and ask your children to check them from time to time,” she advised.
The doctor further encouraged parents and guardians to monitor changes in their children’s behaviour rather than brush them off as “hormonal changes as they grow older”.
For example, she said: “You might have a younger child who may be always active, playful, talkative, doing well in school, eating and sleeping well and playing with their friends. But when this child doesn’t talk or eat as much, is always on the computer or watching TV all night, and you see their grades start dropping, that is when you should start asking questions as a parent or relative, because this may be a sign of depression or sexual abuse.
“Don’t feel uncomfortable talking to your children from early. By the time they reach 12 and 13, their thought patterns have already been set. Talk to your child about bullying at school, and don’t feel wary about having sex talks with them from as young as ages six and seven, because the more you talk about these issues with your child, they will be more willing to share their concerns with you.”
Dr Holder commended school guidance counsellors for taking the lead in referring troubled children to the Department of Psychiatry as well as child guidance clinics at the island’s polyclinics.